Today
Tue 22 June 2021

Astonishing corruption surrounds the infamous 1987 murder, and a lot of it connects to national newspapers. Brian Cathcart considers what the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report might have to tell us

When the public are finally allowed to see the fruits of an eight-year independent examination of the infamous Daniel Morgan murder case – and assuming that Home Secretary Priti Patel has not censored them – we stand to learn a good deal about wrongdoing in the national press. 

Front and centre in the affair is the Metropolitan Police, which has already admitted having been consistently outmanoeuvred by corrupt officers in its own ranks. But right next to them stands the Murdoch news organisation, known today as News UK, and with it the Mirror group.

The report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel should have been published on Monday, 17 May, but the Panel itself has now revealed that it is being delayed because Patel is asserting a right to review and redact the text before publication – a right that is angrily disputed.

Why is the Home Secretary doing this? The pretext her department has suggested makes so little sense that we are left to wonder whether, as has happened so often in this dark story stretching over 34 years, power is being used behind the scenes to protect wrongdoers. 

Police corruption has played an undeniable role in the failure of no fewer than five investigations into the brutal 1987 murder of the private investigator in a south-east London pub car park. Even the work of the Panel – established by the Home Office in 2013 and chaired by Baroness O’Loan – may have been affected, with the long delay in producing a report strongly suggesting that the problems in the Metropolitan Police have not been overcome. 

Remarkably, given the tolerance that governments normally show towards press law-breaking, the Panel’s remit included a requirement to examine “the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them”.

That Murdoch and Mirror group staff were deeply involved in the corruption is not a matter of doubt. Abundant evidence can be found in the 2017 book Untold: the Daniel Morgan Murder Exposed by the victim’s brother Alastair Morgan and Peter Jukes, and also in the 2014 book Hack Attack by Nick Davies. 

The O’Loan team, having had access (at least in principle) to all of the records of all of the police investigations, may be able to tell us much more, and a number of journalists and executives who are or were employed in newspaper organisations must be awaiting the report’s publication with some anxiety. 


Subverting a Murder Investigation?

There are two known areas of concern and, while both are shocking, one is very dark indeed.

Murdoch’s News of the World (since closed because of its illegal phone-hacking) stands accused of actively helping to subvert and frustrate police investigations into Daniel Morgan’s murder. 

To be precise, the newspaper paid people to camp outside the home of the senior investigating office in the inquiry, David Cook, whose wife Jacqui Hames was also a serving police officer. The couple and their children were followed and observed in obvious ways, their phones and emails were hacked and information was gathered about them that could only have been acquired illegally.

This appears to have been a campaign of intimidation and surveillance waged by a newspaper closely linked to individuals long suspected of involvement in the murder. The newspaper had no conceivable public interest justification for pursuing a senior detective and his family in this way, while at the time the police had intelligence that the murder suspects were seeking to threaten Cook.   

There may have been a second round of this later, when Hames was preparing to testify before the Leveson Inquiry – into the culture, practices and ethics of the press – in 2012. Her flat was broken into and her desk and paperwork disturbed. She also had grounds to suspect that she was under observation. 

Hames told the Leveson Inquiry that she had suffered the effects of “collusion between people at the News of the World and people who were suspected of killing Daniel Morgan”.

The newspaper’s then editor, Rebekah Brooks (now the CEO of the Murdoch organisation in the UK), could produce no plausible explanation for the activities of the News of the World when she was questioned. Perhaps the O’Loan Panel can tell us more.  


A Sewer of Filth

The more general issue – in the sense that it implicates many more people – is the scope of newspaper involvement in the illegal activities of Southern Investigations, the firm that Morgan set up and which after his murder served as a funnel of illegally-gathered information for Murdoch and Mirror newspapers. 

Southern used corrupt police officers, some of them very senior, to gain access to secrets of all kinds, from details of ongoing investigations to data from the Police National Computer – all readily sold to journalists. It also conducted intrusive surveillance, hacked people’s emails and almost certainly committed break-ins on behalf of newspapers. This went on for 15 years or more in the 1990s and 2000s.

The News of the World and the Mirror newspapers relied on Southern for scoops despite knowing that its boss, Jonathan Rees, was suspected of involvement in Daniel Morgan’s murder (which he denies); and despite Rees’ conviction in 2000 for attempting to incriminate an innocent woman by planting cocaine in her car. 

Rees’ partner at Southern, former detective sergeant Sid Fillery, had been a lead detective in the first investigation into Daniel Morgan’s murder – before becoming a suspect and then taking Morgan’s place in the company. (He too denies involvement in murder). In 2004, he was convicted of offences arising from the discovery of paedophilic images on his computer. 

In summary, Southern Investigations was a sewer of filth and, swimming in that sewer year after year, were leading journalists at national newspapers that – to their readers – affected the greatest piety about law-breaking. As a measure of the depth of their involvement, in the single year 1996/7, the News of the World alone paid Southern £166,000 for its services. 

Among the journalists close to Southern were Alex Marunchak, a crime reporter who became Associate Editor of the News of the World; and his colleague Gary Jones, who carried on the connection when Piers Morgan brought him across to the Mirror papers. Jones, remarkably, is now editor of the Daily Express. Another was Murdoch’s so-called ‘Fake Sheikh’, Mazher Mahmood, who has since been convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. There were many more and perhaps the O’Loan Panel will tell us about them. 

And these journalists all had managers who approved the payment of Southern’s large and very frequent bills. What does that say about those people, some of whom are well known? Perhaps the Panel will tell us more about that too.


Warning

The Morgan family was dismayed by the cancellation in 2018 of the ‘Leveson 2’ public inquiry into press criminality. It was partly the belief that this fully-empowered public process would be able to lift the lid on corruption that led the family to settle for the independent panel – a weaker, behind-closed-doors process.

Now, thanks to government collusion with the press, they are left to rely on the latter alone. 

And, after 34 years in which corruption of all kinds has triumphed again and again, it would be foolish to expect too much of such a process, however long it has taken.

However high the filth has piled up, there is always the possibility of another whitewash. In particular, the family believes that during the eight years of the Panel’s existence, the Metropolitan Police has deliberately tried to keep David Cook silent. 

Patel’s 11th-hour intervention, demanding time to “review” the report and possibly prevent parts of it being seen by the public, strongly suggests that the battle to suppress the truth in this affair continues to this day – and that very powerful people are waging it. 

Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)

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